Modern Warfare 2
key review info
- Game: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
- Platform: PC
- Gamepad support: N/a
- Reviewed on:
- Show system requirements
Modern Warfare 2 does not live up to the hype that surrounded it before the release date and to the standard set by its predecessor, which was released in late 2007. It ticks all the points on the list: there are better graphics, there's a bigger “What the Hell?” moment, there are tougher characters, bigger firefights and more controversies. It's a fun, quick, at times tough shooter that satisfies the urge to redeem by wielding a firearm and has superb level design.
But the soul of the experience seems not to be there anymore. Activision, a company led by someone who stated that one of his goals was taking the fun out of (making) videogames, seems to have left a print on Modern Warfare 2, a game, which might actually sell millions of copies, making videogaming one of the most active segments of entertainment, but which forgot its heart somewhere in 2007.
The original Modern Warfare was so successful because of two things: the complex multiplayer element, which is still being played by gamers all over the world, and the finely tuned single player campaign, which delivers a lot of corridor solid shooting intertwined with off beat sequences like the AC-10 assault, the brilliant Ghillie Suit missions, the first person execution of an Arab head of state and the nuclear detonation that kills, early on, one of the supposed main characters of the story. These elements had an impact on the very conscience of the player, offering some food for thought, as well as delivering awesome first person shooter experiences. As a gamer, I felt connected to what happened, I felt that something important about war, violence, history, trust and nationalism was being said while bullets were whizzing around your head and you were lobbing grenades back at your enemies.
Modern Warfare 2 tries to take the emotional impact of the first game and to turn everything way, way up on the “crazy” dial. It all starts tame enough, with a romp through Afghanistan and a trip to icy southern Russia. And then all Hell breaks loose (turn away now if you are afraid of mild story spoilers). You assault an airport as a terrorist, kill civilians and get shot in the face. America is invaded by a Russian armada, which goes past all lines of defense and targets the President of the United States. No one sees it coming. A nuke is again launched, this time heading towards American soil. Zarchaev, the main villain of the first game, is described as a hero of Russia. A shadowy organization is revealed to be more than it seems. Captain Price, the old friend from the first game, makes an appearance, and a big betrayal happens before the insanity overwhelming the game that I'm not even sure that the next iteration in the series could be called Modern Warfare again. The single player campaign can be completed in about ten hours tops so most players will likely get to see the pretty incredible ending.
The problem here is that the impact of so many over-the-top events is diminished by the constant escalating degree of insanity. When that nuke dropped in the first game, I actually felt sad and hoped against hope that my character would somehow survive so I took it hard when he was gone. Two main characters get killed in Modern Warfare 2 and the impact on me was actually negligible. The means are there but no more emotion is being extracted out of the player. There's nothing connecting me to the game world, even if it's beautiful and full of exciting guns.
Apart from the fact that you cannot lean around corners, there is little changed in the core mechanics of Modern Warfare 2. You still aim on the iron sights to take out enemies, you still switch over to the other weapon rather than reload, you still sprint for cover with dozens of enemies firing at you. The levels are tight, nicely scripted, offering a lot of challenges but essentially non replayable. Suburban America is nicely realized but the favelas are such an intense experience that I foresee the multiplayer map based on that setting becoming one of the most popular. The campaign is rather short but the intensity is there, even if the narrative does not make too much sense. There are a couple of very surprising levels that should not be spoiled for those who plan to pick up the game.
The console employs an auto aim system that relies on using the iron sights and that works well enough. Tougher players might even opt to turn it off in the Option menu but those who really are after a pin point shooter experience should still use the PC, where headshots are easier to pull and the movement seems most natural (when reading this statement consider that I have been playing PC shooters since Doom).
One important moment of the game is the first American defense mission, which sees you tackle a variety of objectives, take out some Russian helicopters and shoot enemies with a Predator-like drone, all the while running through a sort of entertainment area complete with replica fast food courts and apartment complexes. It's a shameless rip off of Red Dawn but it works very well to induce a sense of panic coupled with determination. If only the overall tone of the game had kept up with that early mission.
A completely unexpected surprise is the Spec Ops mode. Initially, I thought it would simply rehash parts of the single player and offer a cooperative experience in either split screen or over the net. But Infinity Ward has managed to create a challenge in these missions, with my meager skills not allowing me and my buddies to get more than 2 stars on any of them. There's an early one set on a bridge with enemies roping down the sides, which is both a frustration to tackle (at least on the Xbox 360 where I mostly tried it) and a joy to get through again and again. I would not be surprised if a lot of players actually recommended Modern Warfare 2 because of the Spec Ops rather than the single player campaign.
Graphics and audio
If you liked the realism infused look of the first game, then you will love Modern Warfare 2. Infinity Ward takes the player on a whirlwind tour of the world with stops in such far away places like the favelas of Brazil, a sun drenched Afghanistan, the icy mountains of Southern Russia and the suburban bliss of Middle America. They all look gorgeous, with attention paid to details like the sparse bedroom furniture seen in impoverished Brazil and to the way snow obscures the view of those braving the cold of the top of the world. Afghanistan looks wrecked and inhospitable but America, especially as ravaged by an invasion, is the real jewel of the crown. Next time you play the “Wolverines” level, take a look at how complete the recreation of suburbia is. It's impressive on both the PC and the Xbox 360, with the looks on par with those delivered on the PlayStation 3 by Naughty Dog in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.
The sounds are war-like enough, although at times Infinity Ward sacrifices some realism, dialing back weapon fire and the sound of explosions so that communications come through and the player can be easily directed to their objective. The voice acting is also coherent but players should not expect anything with depth. It's all military movie material with the action turned up and with the acting turned down a little. One weird thing is that you cannot actually opt not to listen to the score of the game, which is a bit too light for the hard action scenes it covers.
We already know that there are no dedicated servers and that multiplayer is limited to 9 versus 9 players, which must be disappointed to the hardcore crowd that liked the PC for the flexibility in options it offered and for the scalability of the experience. But other than that, the IWNet system Infinity Ward has set up seems to be holding up well to the task of delivering a multiplayer experience to the millions of people who have bought Modern Warfare 2.
But to take out the customization options and the community feeling dedicated servers introduced is to rip out the center of the multiplayer experience on the PC. When you play, you do so with strangers and in the adrenaline-fueled multiplayer world of the moment, it's tough to find a good fit. It seems that there are already a lot of players who are very skilled and there are some wall hacks and other cheats available, which can lead to having to quit a match because of unfair advantages. Also, the general level of the discourse of the gamer population in an environment that cannot be walled off, can get pretty low and might drive some players away.
Killstreaks and Deathstreaks are well balanced and allow players who have small differences in skill to go head to head together and the possibilities of the Create a Class feature seem pretty much unlimited, especially now, in the early days, when the playing community has not yet settled on so-called “perfect builds.” Modern Warfare 2 also throws a variety of badges and awards at the player, encouraging them to keep playing in order to get them all and show them off to friends and enemies alike. The jury is still out on whether the elimination of private chat is a good idea or not.
It seems to be both a deeper experience than that of the first game and a bit of a step back. Sure, more options for the online community is always a good idea but it might just be that the complexity is high enough to put off those who could be interested in a more casual multiplayer experience. We will only know when the game is a few months old and its popularity can be assessed once the initial hype is over.
When it comes to Modern Warfare 2, one review or a million of them will not change much. The advertising machine of Activision has worked in overdrive and made sure that this will be the biggest selling game of the year. The only question is whether this new first person shooter is something that pushes the genre forward or simply rehashes already existing material while trying to introduce more over the top scenes. After the first Modern Warfare, which revolutionized both the single player and the multiplayer sections, most gamers had high hopes for the sequel.
And I don't believe Modern Warfare 2 really manages to introduce something entirely new. Surely, the improvements are there but they are not important. And a solid videogame, like this one is, only makes its errors more glaring. The plot is weird and the shock scenes do not manage to deliver emotion. The multiplayer might be a bit too complex for its own good. Dedicated servers and leaning are gone. Still, all lovers of the first person shooter genre should get Modern Warfare 2, if only to enable Infinity Ward to create a sequel that redeems the series.